Threes, 1024, and 2048: Creative Competition in a Cluttered Market

Design Features

At the beginning of the industrial revolution, inventors were doing their best with limited technology and equipment, and word spread like molasses. Even the most cutting-edge scientists were able to advance slowly, spanning many years to finally produce a product for the consumer market. These days, innovations spread like an epidemic, with easy and relatively cheap access to the breadth of modern technology. A product can go from conceptual sketch to finished and ready for sale in under a year, and although word can travel instantly around the world, the sheer volume of information causes much of it to be lost in the clutter. The race to produce a new product is so rapid-fire and frenetic, users are struggling to keep up, stay updated, and make the best decisions for themselves.

For example, let’s check out the case study that has become Threes.


The product of a year’s worth of work, Threes was released in the iTunes App Store on Feb. 27th. A copycat app called 1024 was released less than a month later, which looked like the spastic little brother of Threes but with a slightly different premise. Instead of combining tiles into multiple of threes, the purpose was to combine tiles into multiples of twos.


The creators of 1024 clearly decided that more clutter was better, and did their best to pack 1024 full of color, animations and obstacles to prevent a sophisticated use of the game. The design aesthetic was, at best, weak. Regardless of a major dip in quality, this app was free—Threes will run you $1.99. Flooded with free and easy access to content, consumers have become hesitant to purchase apps, no matter how low the cost. This may have contributed to Threes’ relatively slow trek to corner the market. A free browser version of Threes was released by a third party shortly after, but the damage had been done.


Only ten days after 1024 dropped, another adaptation came on the scene. 2048 was a cross between Threes and 1024, in that the premise was to combine multiples of 2, but with no “stones” in the path (like 1024) and a more elegant design (like Threes). When playing Threes, the user moves all tiles in one direction, one space at a time. 2048’s modification was that, with a swipe in any direction, all tiles move as far as they can to the other side, greatly reducing precision. The gameplay in 2048 and 1024 is less calculated, and less complicated. They’re better for a casual user who might be stuck in line at the bank and needs some distraction.


Remember, these three games were released within a month of each other, and are nearly identical in concept. Although Threes was indisputably the first to come out, its success was dwarfed by the competition of the copycats, and the names of its designers were smeared by those who thought Threes was a copycat game. According to the open letter released by the Threes developers, consumers even said that 2048 was better. Imagine the heartbreak of your pet project immediately being dismissed by the public.

Threes was intended to be a near-perfect game, impossible to be outdone by cheats and sneaky strategies. Whereas, the method for “beating” 2048 is very simple and widely available. The Threes developers were adamant that their game was well-designed, incredibly functional, and foolproof. But the question we’re interested in, is does it matter?


Since the explosion of these three competing games (according to Google trends), 2048 seems to have positioned itself at the forefront. Threes came first, jumped in popularity against the two other games, and has struggled their way to dead last.


There are wildly entertaining spinoffs, like Doge2048, and now you’re able to make your own 2048 board (we made a Paste Magazine one, you can play it here).


2048 as a concept has the ability to adapt, stay relevant, and reflect the ever-changing tastes of culture. While Threes is technically a better game, it lacks the power to be flashy and compete this insanely fast-paced world we find ourselves in.

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